United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.
Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The Court, having reviewed the record and for the reasons set forth herein, hereby reverses and remands the decision of the Commissioner.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff Billy Ray Booth filed his current applications for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) payments, alleging disability as of February 19, 2009. (Tr. 7-25 and 151-59). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 87-90 and 94-96). At Plaintiff's request, Administrative Law Judge Gregory O. Varo conducted an administrative hearing on September 16, 2011. (Tr. 97 and 124-44). On November 3, 2011, ALJ Varo ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 7-25). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on January 15, 2013. (Tr. 1-4).
On March 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (Doc. #1). The matter has culminated in cross motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review. (Docs. #6 and 7).
A. Overview of the Process
Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether it is supported by substantial evidence and was made pursuant to proper legal standards. See Cutlip v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 25 F.3d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence" is defined as "more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. Courts are not to conduct a de novo review, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or make credibility determinations. See id. Rather, we are to affirm the Commissioner's decision, provided it is supported by substantial evidence, even if we might have decided the case differently. See Her v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 203 F.3d 388, 389-90 (6th Cir. 1999).
The ALJ, in determining disability, conducts a five-step analysis. Step 1 considers whether the claimant is still performing substantial gainful activity; Step 2, whether any of the claimant's impairments are "severe"; Step 3, whether the impairments meet or equal a listing in the Listing of Impairments; Step 4, whether the claimant can still perform his past relevant work; and Step 5, whether significant numbers of other jobs exist in the national economy which the claimant can perform. As to the last step, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Commissioner. See Jones v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2003); Preslar v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 14 F.3d 1107, 1110 (6th Cir. 1994).
B. The ALJ's Determination
At Step 1, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 12). At Step 2, the ALJ found Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, and a depressive disorder with anxiety to be severe impairments within the meaning of the regulations. ( Id. ).
At Step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. ( Id. ). In doing so, the ALJ found that claimant's degenerative disc disease does not meet the requirements of Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) or 1.04 (disorders of the spine) because "the record does not demonstrate ineffective ambulation or the need for a hand-held assistive device." (Tr. 15). Although obesity has been deleted from the listing of impairments, the ALJ gave "consideration to the fact that obesity can cause limitation of function" in evaluating Steps 3, 4 and 5. (Tr. 16). The ALJ also determined that claimant's depressive disorder with anxiety did not meet the requirements of 12.04 (affective disorders) or 12.06 (anxiety related disorders) because "claimant's mental impairments do not cause at least two marked' limitations, or one marked' limitation and repeated' episodes of decompensation." (Tr. 17).
At Step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform limited light work activity, defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) as follows:
Lift 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; Stand/Walk 6 hours in an 8 hour day, but not more than 1 hour at a time; Sit 6 hours in an 8 hour day, but not more than 1 hour at a time; Needs to shift positions hourly; Occasionally climb ramps and stairs; Never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; Occasionally stoop and kneel; Never crouch or crawl; Avoid concentrated exposure to vibration; Avoid all exposure to unprotected heights; ...